“Lose weight, then we’ll talk.”
That was exactly what the doctor said twelve years ago when I went into his office to get help with my back pain.
What I wanted to say was, “Wow, what a great idea. Why have I never thought about that?”
Instead, I just added all the shame, feelings of failure, and hopelessness to the already hefty burden of stigma I carried around with my excess weight.
And I left. Not getting help for my back. Not getting help with weight loss. Not getting help for any of the things that were causing me so much pain and heartbreak.
All those feelings of defeat piled on. Negative thoughts rolled through my mind: “Even though I’ve tried everything, maybe I just don’t trust God enough. Maybe I’m just a weak person and a bad representation of Christ. Maybe I have no right to write or teach because of this area of my life I cannot get under control.”
For years (my whole life really), I have lived in this cycle of shame — not just from doctors, but from the church.
Medical professionals would tell me if I just tried harder, I could improve my physical health. And the church would let me know if I just believed harder, I could improve my spiritual health by not being fat.
And it made me not want to be in either place — the doctor’s office or the church.
But after trying and failing so many times, I realized I couldn’t just give up. I was in pain. And even though making and waiting for a doctor’s appointment to talk about my weight gave me huge anxiety, I knew I had to do it. Because when you’re desperate, you risk the shame.
I injured my back about twenty-five years ago while helping my parents move and it’s never been the same since. I tried physical therapy, injections, and patches, but the pain still persisted. And while I know that getting out and walking would help me lose weight so that my back wouldn’t hurt as much, walking hurts my back. It just felt like the most painful cycle of frustration ever.
So I made an appointment with a new doctor to talk about my weight. I’m long over believing that losing weight will fix everything, but I do know from experience that losing even ten pounds helps my back feel so much better. And while I’ve been able to lose the weight at times? Maintaining it has been impossible.
My new doctor asked me some questions, and we discussed my medical history. I told her all about what I’ve done before and how much I’ve struggled historically with all of this. I even mentioned that every other doctor has let me know that if only I would work harder, try more, and “not be so lazy” (direct quote) I could lose the weight.
So I waited for the lecture. Again.
She looked at my chart, pulled in her breath, and then looked me in the eye. “Kathi, I do not for one minute believe that you have not tried hard enough.”
And … I started bawling.
For the first time, someone in authority, whether it was a doctor, pastor, teacher, coach — someone, anyone — recognized my desire and my effort, and didn’t blame me for not trying hard enough.
Friends, I cannot tell you what that grace has done for me. It has changed my life and my outlook. That doctor has given me a hope that I have never truly experienced before.
Someone not only believes me, but she believes in me.
And friends? That changes everything.
In the past, I felt like I had to show up properly ashamed of who I am in order to let others know that I get it. I am a failure. You don’t need to tell me. I know before you do.
But that is not the way Christ wants us to show up.
Romans 5:5 says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (NIV).
As a Christ follower, hope is where we are to put our hearts — not shame.
And even though nothing has changed significantly for me physically yet, the act of taking off this cloak of self-hatred for not looking like everyone else, not being like everyone else? I’m already feeling a lot lighter. Not physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
There are physical, medical reasons why my weight is my biggest struggle.
Not giving up.
Not a lack of faith.
I would never shame anyone for their medical condition, and now, after 55 years, I refuse to shame myself for another day because of mine.
Yes, there are things I need to do. That is true with any physical issue. But I refuse to see myself or believe that God sees me as less than because of this particular struggle.
Could you use some hope for an area of shame in your life too? I’m praying the Holy Spirit will speak loving truths to your heart.
Want to learn more about shame-free living? Click here to check out Kathi’s book, An Abundant Place.